Talks over hydel scheme fall through

Gangtok/Kalimpong, June 25: The first meeting between members of the Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT) and the Sikkim government today failed to break the deadlock.

The ACT members are on hunger strike for the past five days demanding that the government should immediately stop all the seven hydel power projects coming up at Dzongu in North Sikkim — a reserved area for Lepchas. They also want the government to review all similar projects in the state.

Today’s meeting, held at the Tashiling secretariat, was attended by acting chief minister and urban development minister D.D. Bhutia, political secretary to the chief minister K.T. Gyaltshen, who initiated the dialogue, chief secretary N.D. Chingapa, additional chief secretary T.T. Dorji, energy and power secretary D.D. Pradhan and administration officials of North and East districts. The ACT was represented by its president Athup Lepcha, chief coordinator Tseten Lepcha and Sherab Lepcha.

The discussion, however, failed to bear fruit as the government officials could not provide any definite assurance in the absence of chief minister Pawan Chamling, who also holds the power and energy portfolio. Chamling is on a tour abroad. During the meeting Bhutia appealed to call off the fast till the chief minister returned.

A communiqué issued by the state public relations and information department in the evening today sought to clarify the government’s stand on the controversy.

“At the outset the government would like to clarify that all necessary action with regard to the hydroelectric projects is being taken as per procedures established by law and only after mandatory clearances from the ministry of environment and forest, Government of India. There is no question of any administrative intimidation. All that has been done is with the full consent of the people,” the release read. The hydroelectric projects are in public interest and shall provide opportunities of gainful employment to the youth of the state, the press release added.

The Kalimpong-based Rong Ong Prongzom (Lepcha Youth Organisation) has threatened to launch an indefinite blockade on NH31A if the hydel projects in Dzongu are not scrapped immediately.

The NH31A that runs through Kalimpong subdivision is considered to be the lifeline of Sikkim.

Expressing solidarity with the ACT, Prongzom members today said Dzongu is a land sacred to the entire Lepcha community and attempts to violate its sanctity would not be tolerated.

A two-member Prongzom team — including its secretary Chozen Lepcha — will leave for Gangtok tomorrow to submit a memorandum to Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling. “It is the duty of each and every Lepcha to protect the holy land,” said Azuk Tamsangmoo, adviser to the organisation.

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